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How to Correctly Put Saline Drops in an Infant's Nose

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Learn how to use nasal saline drops in your baby's nose to relieve congestion and stuffiness.

What’s worse than knowing your little one is under the weather? When it comes to viruses like the common cold, there isn’t anything you can do to treat the cold itself (1). You can, though, treat the symptoms that come along with the cold.

If you have a congested, miserable baby and you’re looking for something to provide a little relief, you do have options, including using saline nose drops.

What Are Saline Nose Drops?

Saline is a saltwater solution used to irrigate the nasal passages and provide relief from swelling and congestion. They are available for purchase over the counter, or you can make a saline solution at home.

Congestion is a side effect of the common cold. Babies only breathe through their nose and do not mouth breath. Nasal congestion thus impairs their breathing, especially while feeding (2).

Why Are They Used for Babies?

Over-the-counter remedies for adults are designed to reduce swelling and allow for easier breathing. While they’re not an option for small children, using a saline solution in the form of nose drops can help reduce congestion.

The salt in the saline solution helps decrease inflammation in the mucous membranes. The solution will also help loosen any blockages while restoring moisture to the sinuses.

These drops are frequently recommended for babies and young children because they don’t contain any medication. They are safe to use on your little one, and they’re able to provide the relief your baby needs.

Will Saline Drops Help My Baby?

Frequent causes of congestion that would require antibiotics include ear infections and sinus infections. If your child has an infection and may require antibiotics, here are some indicators to look for.

  • Ear pulling: Ear discomfort is a classic sign of an ear infection. Babies may cry and pull at their ears. You might notice redness or drainage, but there are frequently no exterior signs to an ear infection. If you suspect an ear infection, bring your child to the pediatrician, who will examine the ear canal and eardrum (3).
  • Fever: A fever above 103 F or 39.5 C, especially one that doesn’t respond well to medication or returns, again and again, may be a sign of a more serious infection (4).
  • Thick nasal discharge, especially if it’s colored: While copious discharge may happen during colds, it should be clear and odorless. If you run into thick, green, sludge-like mucus, it’s time to see your doctor.
  • Productive coughing: If your child is coughing up mucus, especially if it’s opaque green, it’s worth a doctor’s visit.
  • Foul odor: Infections are usually accompanied by odor. If there’s a foul odor, whether it’s coming from the ears, the mouth, or the nose, there’s likely an infection behind it.

Allergies can cause similar problems. If your child has congestion that lingers for more than 10 days, return to your doctor to discuss alternative causes. Your child may need a different treatment plan.

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Making Saline Nose Drops at Home

Saline nasal drops can be found at the drug store and purchased over the counter.

Do you need drops suddenly in the middle of the night? No interest in wrapping up your sick child and running to the store? No problem.

There’s no need for a special trip — you can make saline nose drops with items you likely already have in the kitchen (5).

Plain kosher salt works best for making these drops. Avoid using salt brands containing additives.

  • One-half teaspoon (2.5 gram) of salt.
  • Eight ounces of distilled or sterilized water.

You should plan on using your saline solution at room temperature.

How to Give Saline Nose Drops to Baby

Once you have your saline nose drop solution, you’ll need to be prepared to administer it. Simply insert one to two drops of solution into one nostril and allow it to travel into the nasal cavity. Repeat on the other side.

This may seem like a tricky task, however, when you have an uncomfortable and squirming child. For best results, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Using an eyedropper, draw up some of the saline solution.
  2. Lie your baby across your lap, with head angled slightly toward the floor — use gravity to help the saline solution get where it needs to be.
  3. Place a one to two drops in each nostril.
  4. Allow the baby to remain reclined for a few minutes, if possible. This may encourage sneezing, which will help loosen and remove mucus and congestion.
  5. Using an aspirator bulb, gently remove any newly loosened mucus. Squeeze out all the air in the bulb before putting in baby’s nostril.

Use the nasal drops prior to feeding so baby is able to breathe through her nose while feeding. Use the nasal drops no more than every 3 to 4 hours.

Safety Precautions to Take

When administering the drops, follow some basic safety precautions:

  1. Make sure your hands and all the equipment are clean. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after application to limit the transmission of germs. Your eyedropper and aspirator bulb should be sterilized after each use, as well.
  2. If your child begins to cough, allow them to sit up.
  3. Weakness, lethargy, trouble breathing, and an irregular heartbeat are never normal and require immediate medical attention.

Tips for Navigating Congestion

In addition to using saline nose drops for your child, these are some techniques you can use to help lessen congestion:

  • Use a cool mist humidifier to moisten the air.
  • Petroleum jelly gently applied under the nose can help prevent raw, chapped skin.
  • Warm steam from a hot shower can help loosen trapped mucus. You can hold your baby with the door closed in your bathroom as the water runs in the shower.
  • Keep your baby hydrated.

It’s true that you can’t shorten the length of the common cold, but you can make it more comfortable for your child to get through (6). These techniques, alongside the use of the nose drops, could make a big difference for your little one.

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.